Dimension Data rise to the occasion on Langkawi queen stage

WorldTour team stamp authority on race as Debesay and Gibbons shine

As the sole WorldTour team at the 2017 Tour de Langkawi and two-time defending champions, the pressure was on Dimension Data ahead of the queen stage to Cameron Highlands.

Pre-stage, leader Ryan Gibbons fully expected to lose the jersey with his sprint characteristics hardly suited to the 25-km climb. Dimension Data started the day with the dual ambitions of winning the stage via Mekseb Debesay or Ben O'Connor while trying to limit Gibbons' losses and keep him in contention for the overall.

Dimension Data rose to the occasion – stage victory went to Debesay and third place to Gibbons, who increased his overall lead – leaving the team's two young African neo-pros and directeur sportif Oli Cookson in a state of disbelief with how well the day played out.

"We knew that Mekseb and Ben were strong, but we also had a responsibility with Ryan," Cookson told Cyclingnews. "We had it in the back of our minds that Ryan could climb like this. His coach informed us and we know his weight and his power so it just depended on the way the race went and it played into our hands."

Third place for Gibbons has the team within striking distance of a historic third straight victory in Malaysia but Cookson isn't counting his chickens before they hatch as he explained.

"There some very good teams here, there's a lot of pressure on us, there already was, but even more now after winning the queen stage and keeping the yellow," he added. "Ryan is a young rider, and we are already ahead of expectation, and we need to bide our time. We respect our rivals and also it's an eight-day race in hot humid conditions so you need to keep strong and not get sick so we take it day by day."

After his first day in yellow on stage 3, Gibbons explained to Cyclingnews that he felt there was a lack of respect shown to the leader's jersey. While the finale for stage 4 was one far less suited to his capabilities, the 22-year-old said the yellow jersey proved to be key to his third place finish.

"In the past I have always struggled up the climbs and a lot of that comes down to position," Gibbons told Cyclingnews. "Just being up there, I didn't have to deal with fighting and that makes such a big difference. When it comes to the death, there is only 50 riders left and that is normally when I am not even there. That made a big difference and also to have the yellow jersey on my shoulders just motived me, it was awesome."

With an 11 second lead over Cameron Bayly (IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness) and 15 seconds over Alberto Cecchin (Wilier Triestina), Gibbons is likely to continue to pick up bonus seconds over the following four days. While Gibbons could approach the four remaining stages with the focus on defending the GC, the fiercely competitive South African is promising to race aggressively in search of victory.

"I really want a stage win," he said. That is the priority. Obviously the biggest priority would be to keep the jersey but I would be disappointed not have stage win so I will definitely go all out for a stage win."

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